It was an ordinary day. The weather was ordinary. The work was ordinary. Life seemed ordinary. But a divine appointment had been made for that Saturday afternoon.
Phabujom, a Hmong village in northern Thailand, is one of many villages in the mountain areas located at the end of a road. Although Phabujom does see a small number of tourists trek through the village, it is not a tourist destination; no trinket stands, no stores to entice passing travelers, no 'cultural sideshows,' and no advertising signs of any kind.
The village consists almost completely of farmers. They plant mostly cabbages, along with some rice and corn, and harvest bamboo shoots in the tropical mountain forest during the rainy season. The people work hard.
A group of college students with a couple of the college teachers wound their way up the mountain following the river until they came to the elephant camps. The students were from from the Chiang Mai campus of Southeast Asia Nazarene Bible College. They went through one village and passed by two others. Journeying past freshly-planted cabbage fields and recently-harvested mountain rice fields, they arrived at Phabujom.
Phabujom, located about 16 miles or 25 kilometers from the campus of Southeast Asia Nazarene Bible College had no church building. Few in the village considered themselves Christians. Most, even some that considered themselves Christian, followed the generational ritual practices, appeasing local spirits and deceased ancestors.
The instructions were, 'Talk to the people. Learn from them. What do they think and feel? What is important to them? What is their understanding of God? Get to know them.' That day Nkaub (Guy) explained that he wasn't sure what he believed. He was uncertain about God and didn't hold any real belief in spirits. Yet, he was interested to talk to me about God.
After many discussions, one day Guy asked, 'What do we have to do if we're Christians?'
I shared Jesus' words regarding the most important law, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' and the second, 'Love your neighbor as yourself' (Matthew 22:37-39). We talked about the implications. Guy was struck with the simplicity and yet difficulty of learning to do just that. He understood the freedom from ritualistic practices and yet the even greater continuous effort that was necessary to keep those commands.
In weeks following, there were questions about marriage, funerals, and other things important to them on a day-to-day basis in village life. The Word of God was our compass. Scripture passages pertinent to the conversation were read and discussed, not 'taught.'
On one visit a student told Guy and Jeuk ("Jake," another man who became interested in our conversations) about our tradition of tithing. Jake is one of the more wealthy people in the village, relatively speaking. He didn't like the idea of tithing and for a few months stopped coming to our weekly meetings. As a Buddhist, he didn't have a problem giving to the monks. Being generous on his terms was acceptable. But the idea of 10 percent being designated for giving to the church was uncomfortable.
Jake had never thought in terms of a percentage before nor had he thought in terms of giving merely from a heart of thanksgiving. After several conversations when Jake came to understand that the tithe was an expression of obedience and trust in God and not a tax to be levied, he rejoined our God conversations.
One day they asked, 'Are we Christians?' based on a conversation that they had with a person from another village. The Holy Spirit led us to John 1:12. So we read that verse and asked, 'What does the Bible say?'
They responded, 'All who receive the Word are called children of God.'
'Tell me, have you been accepting or rejecting the Word as you receive and hear it?'
Then we reviewed what they had learned from the Bible about loving and living. Only one time was a teaching rejected, that about tithing by Jake, yet he ultimately accepted it and returned.
Early in our relationship Jake was having difficulty thinking. He was told that a curse had been placed on him by a village leader. Jake was in a dark cloud that would not lift. He remembered one of our conversations where I had shared, 'God is waiting for you. Just admit your need for him and he will help you.'
In that dark cloud, he prayed, 'God, I need your help.' Within a minute the cloud lifted and he could think logically again.
One evening Jake's wife was complaining about a day-long severe headache. Finally they decided to go to the hospital, a 40-minute drive. Along the way Jake decided he could pray for his wife and so he did. God answered that prayer for healing before they reached the hospital.
Now, we meet together weekly and continue to talk about 'recent' events in the village; issues that challenge them. We read the Bible and discuss the Word and share how God might be speaking to them specifically. Their concern is daily living in the village. We pray together for the needs in the village, primarily to know and love God.
These changes have not been easy. Although Guy and Jake have come to know God and are following Jesus' example, they have felt the sting of isolation from their families and neighbors because their belief in God is much more than mental assent. Twelve families in the village have accepted a foundational belief in Christ, but their faith has yet to grow beyond a basic belief.
An additional blessing of the way God worked in this village is that Guy's daughter, Dao, became our daughter-in-law. My wife, Kathy, tutored Dao with learning English using the Bible as the primary teaching tool. Dao then asked for the Bible and through reading it, her faith has grown.
I am not amazed to witness how God has been transforming Guy and Jake into people who love him and follow Jesus on a daily basis. That is what God does. Personally, it has been both exciting and energizing. They are models of lives being changed, not by my lessons, but by the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Kent Pelton resides in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife, Kathleen, where he is involved in making Christlike disciples.